Time to ‘fess up…

I bought yarn.

I have been so, so good with my ‘Knit from your Stash pledge of 2007.  As per my rules, I have allowed myself to buy yarn for weaving with; and have indeed done weaving with said yarn.  I have also woven with yarn I *originally* (i.e. pre-2007) bought for knitting with.  But now I’m confused.

The question is, if I buy more yarn for weaving with, and end up knitting with it, does that count as one of my ‘get out of jail free’ cards for the year?  Similarly, if I was thinking about a knitting project when I bought the yarn, and end up weaving with it, does that count?

Y’see, this yarn has been tempting me for some time, with the thought of weaving projects.  But then, I started thinking about knitting a cute little cardi, just as I was buying the yarn.  But then again, I don’t think I have enough yarn for that, so maybe I’m back to weaving with it again.

And the object of my lust?  Artisan-spun, rare wool?  Exotic and luxurious natural fibres, hand-dyed with natural dyes?  A one-off that will truly never come again?  A keepsake from a wonderful event?

No.  100% acrylic from my LYS.  Stylecraft Apache.

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The one with the green background (predictably) – Thyme.

I don’t know what got into me.  Well, I do.  Beer.  Let that be a lesson to you.  Me.  Whatever.

Spindle spinning

From one guild workshop to another…  This month’s workshop has been spindle spinning.  I have owned a spindle since I was about 10, but never really gotten into it.  I had a very influential temporary teacher then; she was a vile, shrivelled old lady who smoked like a chimney and had a tongue like an iron rasp – but one magical day, she brought her spinning wheel in for an end of term special.  Oh, joy.  I think I bought that first spindle off her there and then, and a few years later got my first wheel.

Sadly, both spindle and wheel languished somewhat until pretty recently; I was enthusiastic but totally uninformed and when I picked my wheel up from my parents ast year, I found several bobbins full of fine goat singles and a spindle, also full of singles.  I’m guessing that though I knew about plying back then, I never really knew how to do it, and just ‘kept going’ in the hopes that one day, I’d know what to do next.

I guess that theory finally worked.  Huh.  Anyway, back to the workshop.

In the spirit of fresh starts, I purchased a selection of new spindles to add to the growing collection.  As well as the very old spindle (which is currently buried somewhere in the studio and cannot be found for photographic purposes), I already owned a spindle that is a replica of one found in the Viking excavations in York.  I bought it last year at Woolfest, and was warned at the time that it wasn’t the easiest spindle to run – but I loved it anyway, even though it really was a bit of a beast to spin with!

I bought a cheap bottom-whorl spindle, a Bosworth top whorl and a Takhli (supported) spindle to play with.  Those three, and the Viking replica, are in the following photograph:

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From left to right, we have the top-whorl Bosworth (yes, upside down), the Takhli, the Viking replica (it has a soapstone whorl, for anyone who is wondering) and a basic bottom-whorl.

I also bought some commercially prepared Blue-faced Leicester wool (some white and some natural coloured) and some Teeswater blend (longwool, and also from my native area!) to play with.

Well!  It turns out that nice wool and an easy spindle quickly improve your spinning ability.  I’ve made one skein of two-ply with the bottom whorl spindle, and I think it is some of the nicest yarn I’ve ever spun:

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White BFL, 48m, 13wpi (DK-weight)

I’m really rather in love with this skein.  It is lofty and soft and the spin/ply balance is just right.  There are some very skinny bits, and some slightly fatter bits, but overall it’s surprisingly even.

I used two knitting needles to wind the singles onto, and to ply from; the re-winding was very tedious, and for the second lot, I used a ‘quill’ – which is a posh name for a bit of paper that you put on the spindle shaft, so all your singles are on it, and can simply be slid off onto your storage/plying device (aka knitting needle).  That was a lot faster, but I know that there are at least some people who think that rewinding your singles results in a better, smoother and overall higher quality finished plied yarn.  Using a quill would obviously mean those benefits are foregone.

Another shot, just because:
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It also turns out that the practice I got on the easy wool and easy spindle made me much more proficient with the difficult stuff.  Because I never make life easy for myself, as well as launching into spinning on a tricky Viking-replica spindle, I was also using very random wool gleaned from hedges, fences and bushes on the North Yorkshire Moors.  I washed it, carded it and went for it:

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Not ‘nice’ wool.  It is hairy, scratchy and, somehow, deeply satisfying.  It’s also pretty thin, at about 23wpi.  That spindle is quite light!

I took this spindle and wool to a Medieval Fair (where I was a re-enactor rather than a visitor, though the term re-enactor is a little optimistic, to be honest) and got a *lot* of interest from passers-by.  I took it because I didn’t mind any weird lumps, bumps or over-twisted bits in this yarn, and that’s a good thing if you are going to allow people to try it for themselves.  Grown-ups get to try the whole thing at once; little ones get to try spinning the spindle while I draft, and, if they want, they can then try drafting (aka ‘the wool bit’) whilst I spin the spindle.  I had an absolute blast, and so did most people who tried it, I think.

I ended up back home with several small bundles of singles and decided to try Andean-plying them, using instructions supplied by the leader of the guild workshop.  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of Andean plying, but never got my head round how it works.  Well, it works, and it works great!  I’ll be doing it again in the future, without a doubt, and I also don’t doubt that it will be another huge draw when demonstrating!

I have yet to try supported spindle spinning, or to master any kind of long-draw type technique with a spindle.  I’ve also not done anything with my top-whorl spindle, except to add a leader string and just ‘test’ it – and the month is nearly over!  Why, oh why, is there never enough time to do everything I want?!?

My biggest lesson learned?  Spindle spinning is *portable*.  Knitting is very portable; spinning wheels are not.  Spinning wheels are very efficient; spindles are not (well, relatively not, anyway).  However, if you have time out of the house, and want to spin, then spindles are a lot more productive than not spinning.  I think I will be travelling with a spindle and fibre a lot more in future.

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Skeins

Competition results!

The correct answer, listed top to bottom in the photograph, was:

  1. Combed sliver
  2. Carded, woollen
  3. From the lock
  4. Carded, semi worsted

Congratulations Mary de B!  You are the winner of the Bowmont competition, getting all four correct!  Drop me an email to remind me of your address (I know I had it before, but I lost it – sorry!) and I’ll send you your prize.  Leigh, you were so close I think you deserve a prize too, so again, I’ll be after your postal address so I can send it.  Anyone who is interested in seeing more Bowmont photos *must* check out Leigh’s blog, by the way.  She has been spinning it *incredibly* fine (singles at 66wpi, anyone?!?) and has some lovely photos of wool staples, comparing Bowmont  with Shetland and merino (the two breeds used to create the Bowmont sheep).  You can see the wonderful, fine, regular crimp of the wool in those photos, too (something I forgot to record before washing my allocated fibre).

Bowmont Roundup (and competition!)

In summary, for the first time, I took raw fleed and I washed, prepped and spun it all myself.  I chose four different preparation methods – two carded, one ‘from the lock’ and one combed – for comparison, and for practice.  I ended up with four skeins of two-ply yarn in the range 17-20 wpi,

The carded, woollen prep was quick and easy, resulting in a soft, lofty and pleasantly uneven yarn with a rustic feel.  It is beautifully soft, but I feel it is somehow a waste of this gorgeous fibre, which has such potential for lustre.

The carded, semi-worsted top had some really nice sections – but carding invariably introduced some neps, which had to be picked out, ignored or ‘teased’ into the yarn, which spoilt both the fun of the spinning and the appearance of the final yarn

Spinning straight from the lock was a frustrating experience, with stretches of ‘nice’ spinning interrupted by awkward drafting and having to join in a new lock frequently – usually with mediocre success.

Combing the fibre then spinning from dizzed sliver was a revelation!  The yarn was smooth, lustrous, consistent and wonderful; it was a time-consuming process and somewhat wasteful, but there were no steps I disliked doing, and the yarn was beautiful.

Of the four methods, I would consider woollen-prep carding and combing for a full project; the yarns produced are very different, so clearly the use of the finished yarn would be a major factor in choosing the prep, but both are practical, enjoyable and produce good results.

And now for the competition!

The following photograph contains all four of the 2-ply skeins I produced.  Can you tell which skein was prepared with which method??  Answers in the comments please, and there will be a yarny prize for the winner! (Or a not-yarny prize if the winner prefers…)

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Have fun!

The Final Prep: Combing the Bowmont

Yesterday, I mentioned that ‘true’ worsted yarns are produced from combed wool.  Well, meet my wool combs:
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They were made by Majacraft, who also provide great instructions (warning: pdf!) on how to use them, and really are pretty sharp, and I’m glad they come with that backplate/holder.  They definitely get kept away from Kita’s curious wee nose.  The odd brass ‘thing’ is a diz: something that seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of the yarn prep world.  I’ll explain more as I go…

For combing, fibre needs to be really clean, and so I used the locks from my prep that were the whitest and least sheepy-smelling of the lot in this batch.  Combing really, really opens up the fibre and you get quite a bit of static flying around.  You also end up with all your fluffy, white fibre stuck on the comb – which is where the diz comes in.  This thing is like magic.  You use the tiniest hook imaginable to pull a tiny tuft of fibre through the smallest hole – and you pull.  And pull.  And pull.  You get a feeling for when to shift your grip on the long, lofty, slender sliver that you are making (though it’s a tad frustrating until you do), and the diz just seems to hoover up all the fibre from the comb and suck it in as you go, until all the waste and tangly bits are left on the comb, and you can just *spin* what you have left.  The first lot I tried with this, I think I had well over 30% waste, but my efficiency improved dramatically as I practiced – and anyway, all the leftovers can be combed and used for woollen yarn later.

Spinning that stuff is like a dream – it is smooth, nep-free and just *flows*.  I produced some really lustrous, smooth, soft, consistent yarn this way:
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Combing wool is time consuming, but not frustrating (as the dog-combs were) and gives a significantly better result than the semi-worsted carded prep.  It may take longer, but you don’t have to fight any imperfections whilst spinning, and the whole thing was just *fun*.  I’m delighted to own these mini combs, and will definitely use them again.  I might even remember to take photos next time.

Bowmont spinning: carded wool

I used a pair of Ashford fine tooth hand carders to prep my Bowmont.  I’m not going to talk about hand carding, because others have done it far better than I could already, but suffice it to say that the wool is ‘brushed’ between the two spiky, bristly cards.  The fibres are kept somewhat aligned by the brushing, and then the fibre mat is rolled off the cards or gently lifted off them, depending on whether you want woollen or semi-worsted prep.

If you roll the fibre off into a rolag (the correct name for what is otherwise known as a ‘fluff sausage’ – try that, Google!), and spin from the end of your ‘sausage’, you are pulling fibres into the nascent yarn at right-angles to the direction you aligned them in during carding.  This means that the fibres in the yarn are all jumbled up, which means lots of air is trapped in there and results in a yarn that is light, fluffy, squishy and insulating.

If you split the mat into strips in the same direction as the carding, you will pull fibres into the yarn in the same direction as their original spin.  That means the fibres will lie straighter and more parallel to each other; they will pack together better, and give a yarn that has less trapped air, and which is therefore denser, harder, smoother and less insulating than its woollen-spun cousin.  This particular method – using carded wool – is sometimes referred to as ‘semi-worsted’.  True worsted yarn is produced from combed, not carded, fibre and I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

I produced both woollen and semi-worsted yarn in this workshop, though it seems that even my fine cloth carders were not fine enough to avoid ‘neps’ forming in this ultra-fine wool.  Neps are small, knotted tangles that form when you card wool; it seems that they are so tighly knotted that they cannot be removed by more carding.  In fact, the more you card, the more neps you seem to get!

I found that I still had too much grease in my fleece for the semi-worsted prep to draft smoothly for long; I got the best results when I split the mat into very narrow segments, or pre-drafted my segments so I didn’t have to draft while spinning.  Spinning woollen-style from the rolag was much easier, and a lot of fun!  I realised doing this that I haven’t done much woollen or long-draw spinning before, as I have mostly worked with commercial combed top, but I definitely need to do more of this.  The process is quick and infinitely amusing, and the yarn produced has bounce and character galore!

Semi-worsted yarn:
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Woollen yarn:
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I allowed the ‘neps’ in the woollen prep to enter the yarn, without fighting them or trying to tease them out.   The woollen yarn is noticeably fluffier and has much less lustre than the semi-worsted; the semi-worsted has some lovely sections but is definitely erratic, showing the occasional lump, bump or  
fuzz that I wasn’t able to tease out of the fibre during the spinning process!

Come back tomorrow for the final installment in this Bowmont series, and an account of what certain snobby fibre-ists consider the only ‘real’ method of fibre prep: combing!  (NB – I don’t agree with them…)

Bowmont: the saga continues (spinning from the lock)

Being the lax and remiss blogger that I clearly am, I need to summarise my Bowmont work rather, or it will never get blogged.  After washing, those dirty locks fluff up nice and white and clean (with just the occasional dirty tip or fleck of VM*):
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The next question is "how to prep the clean wool for spinning?"  I investigated four different answers to that question, and I’ll describe each over the next four days.

Today, I’m talking about theoretically the quickest and simplest method – spinning directly from the lock, using a dog comb to open the ends of each lock first:

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The comb in the photo is not a flea comb (most flea combs have flat teeth, which can damage the fibre, apparently), but a fine, round-toothed comb.  It cost me about £3.50 from the local pet shop.

I didn’t particularly enjoy spinning this way; it took a lot of time to open the locks, and I found the locks still fairly tough going to draft.  Worse, I found it hard to get a smooth, strong join between one lock and the next.  I spun from the tip end of each lock, for no particular reason other than that it seemed intuitive to me.  Others in the guild have since said that they always spin from the butt (cut) end of the lock, and that it makes drafting easier and smoother.  The singles I produced were smooth but not very consistent, and when plied together the resulting yarn was rather straggly and unattractive:
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If I were to attempt spinning from the lock again, I’d definitely try spinning from the butt end to see if I found any difference.  I’d also like to try doubling each lock over my finger and spinning ‘from the fold’ – something which I have never done but may well try with some of my remaining fibre.
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* VM = vegetable matter!